How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically
Free E-Course Assignment 37.1
Chapter 11: Living Poetically
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We’re almost done! This is the final assignment for Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 will be the last chapter.
I recently wrote a sestina for a poetry contest. I thought, why should I have to suffer alone? So I am asking you to write a sestina as well.
It’s a rather demanding form, but it’s a very good exercise for “writing poetry and living poetically,” because, while your left brain is busy putting the puzzle pieces together, your creative, intuitive right brain remains free to romp and frisk.
Below is Wikipedia’s definition of sestina:
A sestina (also, sextina, sestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to as retrogradatio cruciata(“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in iambic pentameter or another decasyllabic meter. —Wikipedia
Let’s see if I can clarify that a bit.
- Choose six words. We’ll call them A, B, C, D, E, and F.
- Your sestina’s first stanza will have six lines. The first line will end with Word A, the second line will end with Word B, the third line will end with Word C, and so forth.
- You will write five more six-line stanzas. The six lines in each stanza will also end with Word A, Word B, and so forth, but in a different order for each stanza, as specified in the pattern below.
- The seventh stanza will have three lines. All six words will appear in these three lines, as follows: A and B in the first line, C and D in the second line, and E and F in the third line.
Here is the pattern, using the words I chose for my sestina (than, round, day, wide, great, countryside):
Line 1-than (A)
Line 2-round (B)
Line 3-day (C)
Line 4-wide (D)
Line 5-great (E)
Line 6-countryside (F)
Line 7-countryside (F)
Line 8-than (A)
Line 9-great (E)
Line 10-round (B)
Line 11-wide (D)
Line 12-day (C)
Line 13-day (C)
Line 14-countryside (F)
Line 15-wide (D)
Line 16-than (A)
Line 17-round (B)
Line 18-great (E)
Line 19-great (E)
Line 20-day (C)
Line 21-round (B)
Line 22-countryside (F)
Line 23-than (A)
Line 24-wide (D)
Line 25-wide (D)
Line 26-great (E)
Line 27-than (A)
Line 28-day (C)
Line 29-countryside (F)
Line 30-round (B)
Line 31-round (B)
Line 32-wide (D)
Line 33-countryside (F)
Line 34-great (E)
Line 35-day (C)
Line 36-than (A)
Line 37-than (A), round (B)
Line 38-day (C), wide (D)
Line 39-great (E), countryside (F)
…And Then We Shall Return
Now, here is my poem:
Laverne and I like nothing better than
to climb the oaken steps that circle round
and round up to the steeple; to this day
intact with bell and rope, its windows wide
and open in the summer to the great
green quilt of rolling countryside.
And in the autumn, this same countryside
is rusty red with sorghum, riper than
the melons, yellowing upon their great,
thick, ropy stems. The fruit grows round
as basketballs — not striped and lush and wide
like watermelons picked on Labor Day.
We try, Laverne and I, ‘most every day
to mount the steps and view the countryside,
horizon to horizon. On the wide,
wide world beyond, we ponder gaily then,
imagining the wonders of the round,
revolving planet: bustling cities; great
metropolises, great blue seas, and great
the mountain forests we shall see some day,
and then we shall return: The world is round,
our place in it the motley countryside,
in which our twisted roots are deeper than
the sun is high, the stormy seas are wide.
Wide seas, wide roads we do not crave, but wide
green fields of corn and wheat; and harvests, great,
sweet-scented harvests, more abundant than
the ones before. We pray for cool, dry days
so laborers can clear the countryside;
and sometimes, in the evenings, they sit ‘round
a blazing campfire, as the full, bright, round
and heavy harvest moon throws shadows, wide
as haystacks, on the now-still countryside.
Is there, in all the earth, a work as great
and satisfying as a harvest day?
Is there a job more fine and noble than
the farmer’s? More than seasons turning ‘round
the wheel, each day is new-made glory, wide
as seas, great life-bestowing countryside.
* * *
Please send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
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